I don’t give a damn who the millionaire bet on. What I want to know is — what bets did my friend with the $9 knapsack make?
A few years ago, a highly-respected sports-gambler and associate of mine (who shall remain nameless unless he wishes to identify himself) used to fly into Las Vegas for just one reason — to bet on the Super Bowl game. He’d show up at the Westgate Sportsbook on the big night when all the Super Bowl props were first released.
The Westgate (formally the Las Vegas Hilton) was and remains the bellweather of Super Bowl propositions. They post hundreds of creative props — on everything from the coin flip to what the exact time the game would end. Props have became more exotic in recent years. Now, you can even wager on the odds of something happening in the Super Bowl positioned versus the outcome of another sporting event in a different part of the world (including — basketball, hockey, golf, and even soccer).
Example: Will there be more interceptions thrown in the Super Bowl or goals scored in the English Premier’s Liverpool-Tottenham match? More Interceptions is Listed at -145.
My friend, who made quite a successful living exploiting margins wherever he could find them in any form, would usually show up carrying a $9 knapsack. But that knapsack was worth far more for what it contained inside. Some years, he’d come into the casino staked with $250,000 — all in cash.
He had a routine. A clever plan was necessary because it was practically impossible to get down that much action on the very juiciest betting props, those obscure and often absurd betting exotics that most typical football fans wouldn’t notice. My friend couldn’t walk up to the betting window and plunk down $60,000 on the number of catches by a tight end. No casino, not even the Westgate Sportsbook, would accept that volume of action (not all at once). Hence, $1,000 and $2,000 limits were usually the norm for most props (this varies today).
A far more annoying obstacle for serious bettors is the serpentine parade of (mostly amateur) bettors, which gums up the works. Too many people slows down access to getting the best numbers. Hundreds of casual fans waffling around at the betting windows fishing out $20 bills on a parlay ticket was like molasses glued to the fuel line of a Ferrari. While standing in line and waiting, those precious outlier betting values were steadily being hammered into shape by the sharps, minute by minute, bet by bet. It’s a cliche, but time is money in sports betting. Waiting around usually means getting the worst of it — and by that I mean the worst price. It’s why most successful sports bettors wager early in the week. They don’t wait around for stale leftovers.
So, the routine was to bet as much as he could on as many props as possible and go though the line over and over again until every single prop was covered to the greatest extent feasible. The knapsack would get lighter with each visit to the betting counter and by the time the night was done, my friend would be holding a fist full of tickets, perhaps 200 in all — the equivalent of juggling five decks of cards. Armed with a quarter million in paper confetti, he’d quietly exit the rear door, wave bye to Man O War, head into the parking lot, start the rental car, take his wife out to a nice dinner, and they’d fly back home the next morning.
That’s a “pro.”
You never see any news about these guys. They don’t parade around town bragging about their bets. You don’t know their names. Instead, the media often report trivial news of no significance, other than tinsel.
Consider a report from ESPN earlier this week that the MGM Casino (Las Vegas) had reportedly accepted a huge bet exceeding $1 million. Someone bet a million dollars on the Philadelphia Eagles. My first and last thought is: So what?
To be clear, I like and respect David Purdum, the ESPN Staff Writer who first broke this story [READ HERE]. He’s just doing his job. It is newsworthy to accept a wager of this size. I don’t begrudge Purdum for breaking the news. However, since the exact amount of the wager wasn’t disclosed, nor was the identity of the gambler given, why does this matter at all?
Most important of all — THE LINE DIDN’T MOVE.
That tells you everything.
It tells you the casino doesn’t respect the bet, nor the gambler. Another schnook.
Next customer! Step right up! What’s your bet, Sir?
All successful sports gamblers know the Super Bowl is just another football game. That’s right: Just. Another. Football. Game. Often, it’s an unbettable situation — at least when it comes to the side and total. What makes the Super Bowl special (for gamblers) is the bacchanal of bizarre bets in the form of odds and props, which no sportsbook in the world can possibly get 100 percent correct in their assessment of actual probabilities. This is where some bettors — often math gurus and nerd analysts — are truly smarter than the house, and that’s why they win.
The smart money moves the line. The stale money doesn’t move anything. It just goes into the vault. And so it is with big bettors and their big bets.
From September though January, among the most suspiciously-hyped football wagers by local Las Vegas sportswriters are the weekly reports of bets made throughout the week. We are seeing what amounts to a marketing gimmick way too often. It’s become roadkill. We shouldn’t even pay attention to it. Inexplicably, these stories get lots of attention.
Sportsbook managers often get quoted when they accept huge wagers by so-called “smart bettors.” A few weeks ago, a perfect example of this hype occurred when one local sportsbook manager stated, “We accepted a six-figure wager from a smart bettor on the Rams.” Hmm. More notable than the Rams outright loss three days later as a nearly touchdown favorite was my justified cynicism the sportsbook manager probably just wanted to keep his rich customer on the hook and stroke his ego. But announcing to the media that a “smart bettor” was on the Rams, that made the schnook feel good when he saw he was referenced in the local newspaper.
He’s talking about me!
Like I said — a schnook.
In the offshore betting market, which has displaced Las Vegas as the real epicenter of wagering, there are $200 bettors who move lines. Another of my associates (again nameless, unless he wants to step forward) was beating the holy hell out of Canadian College Football. I swear this is a true story — until then, I didn’t even know Canadian College Football existed. He was crushing the offshore sportsbooks so badly (and sharing his analytics with friends — wink, wink) they cut him down to $200 a game. Now, if he even opens his account and blinks at a game, the line jumps a couple of points. Last time the subject came up, I think he can only bet like $50 or $100. So, he’s betting peanuts. But he’s a line mover. He’s a shaker. Not some millionaire trust-fund baby bullshitter.
This image versus reality flimflam bears remembering since we’re just ten days away from the Super Bowl and an avalanche of hype is on the horizon. I don’t give a damn who the millionaire bet on. And neither should you. What I want to know is — what bets did my friend with the $9 knapsack make? He’s got the goods.
Oh yeah, speaking of “Mr. Knapsack,” you’re probably wondering — how’d he do on his quarter million in Super Bowl wagers? Or, how does he usually do every year?
It’s all a numbers game for him. Out of 200 wagers, it doesn’t really matter which team wins or loses. Some percentage of those wagers will fall into line with the predicted analytics. For every bad beat on a prop, a lucky break results in the cashing of another. Since his early calculations are (usually) superior to the initial openers, “Mr. Knapsack” simply relies on the 10-15 percent edge he’s uncovered on most of his props. So, if he goes close to 50/50 he still pockets five figures. The years he shared profit data with me, his earn was between $20,000-$30,000. Best of all, this was without even breaking a sweat.
And — I can’t exactly swear to this. But I don’t think he even watches the game.
Note: Super Bowl betting props are being posted live at the Westgate as this article is being posted.
When you see ads featuring douchebags driving fancy cars fanning wads of cash surrounded by sexy girls — run in the opposite direction. They’re all crooks. Every one of them. Here’s the truth: Real sports handicappers don’t call attention to themselves. Real sports handicappers don’t toss around $100 bills like confetti. Real sports handicappers don’t hang out in Las Vegas nightclubs. Real sports handicappers work their asses off — because that’s what it takes to win.
It’s that time of year again.
The start of football season means two things. First, sports gambling ramps up big-time. Second, an infestation of predators will be hunting for fresh prey. These predators are known as “sports handicapping services.”
Fortunately for us, dishonest sports handicapping services are easy to spot. In fact, they make it way too easy.
Here’s some advice that’s never once failed me in my 20-plus years on the sports gambling scene and more than a decade living here in Las Vegas. That advice is as follows: When somebody looks and acts like a scumbag, he’s usually a scumbag.
Want to know more of the warning signs? Okay, let’s do this. I’ve compiled a list of things to watch out for. Here are 10 ways to tell a sports handicapping service (also known as “touts” or “sports advisors”) is probably dishonest:
 When the Handicapper(s) uses a Pseudonym
Any successful sports handicapper should be willing to use his real name in all of his business dealings. This is especially true when your hard-earned money is involved. Sure, some handicappers may employ a catchy nickname for marketing purposes, and that’s okay. But each of us has a legal first and last name. Anyone who’s honest about what they do for a living should be willing to be known publically. I’ve discussed this sticky point with some full-time touts who insist they use pseudonyms for legal reasons and/or to maintain privacy. I call bullshit. If you can’t take pride in what you do for a living, or you’re uncomfortable with your customers knowing your identity, then you shouldn’t be in the business. Here’s a question: Would you take financial advice from someone who doesn’t use his (or her) real identity and instead relies on a fake name? Of course not. This should also apply to anyone you trust to provide sports picks.
 Handicappers Using Phoney Academic Credentials
Over the years I’ve noticed many scumbag handicappers use “Doctor” or “Professor” in their titles. This would be perfectly fine if they actually had academic credentials — particularly in fields such as statistics, psychology, or some other discipline related to sports gambling. Fact is, these “doctors” and “professors” are frauds. They’re liars. Years ago, a scam-capper who went by the name “Dr.” Ed Horowitz was exposed as a cocaine addict and was found to be a convicted felon. More recently, “Dr. Bob,” a college dropout who lit up the sports betting scene about a decade ago when he went on a (perhaps random) hot streak which caught the attention of mainstream media, has no doctorate in anything. He’s still around. Be careful about who you trust. Academic titles shouldn’t be slung around loosely with the intent to establish a false credibility so as to fool people. Academic credentials should be rightfully earned. No sports advisory service to my knowledge has any doctors of professors working as full-time handicappers. Perhaps they do exist and if so, they could post a copy of the doctorate at the website.
 Living a High-Roller Lifestyle
There are legitimate handicappers and honest sports services making a living researching games and then giving out the plays, and perhaps even betting on those picks themselves. Every single one of them puts in massive numbers of hours. This is especially true for bona fide sports services that really do care about their clients, which are few and far between. If you see advertisements (or worse, “reality television” shows or videos) with douchebags posing with fancy cars surrounded by pretty girls, or fanning huge wads of cash — run in the opposite direction. They’re all crooks. Shit stains. Scum. Every one of them. Here’s the truth: Real sports handicappers don’t call attention to themselves. Real sports handicappers don’t toss around $100 bills like confetti, nor hang out in Las Vegas nightclubs. Real sports handicappers work their asses off because that’s what it takes to win in this business.
 Touting Only Recent Win-Loss Results
This is a red flag that screams — scam! We see this frequently, especially on print ads and all over social media, including Twitter and Facebook. “We went 8-2 our last 10 plays! Sign up now!” So, the service claims that they went 8-2. So what? I can flip a coin and it might come up 8 heads and 2 tails (there’s a 3 percent chance of this happening if you flip a coin ten times right now). But why is the service bragging about only the last ten picks? What happened the previous 20 picks? Or previous 50 picks? You can be absolutely certain — if the service had enjoyed a longer winning streak, they’d be bragging about it. Fact is, the service might have gone 2-8 the prior week and ended up with a 10-10 overall record. Minus the usual 10 percent vig plus the service’s subscription fee, congratulations — you’re well on your way to going broke. All that matters in sports handicapping in the long term. One day, one week, or even one month is almost meaningless. Unless a service can provide a legitimate W-L record over a lengthy period (at least a year, and preferably several years), they should be avoided no matter what claims they make. [One more thought: A trustworthy service shouldn’t have to constantly brag about themselves — winners become self-evident]
 Failure to Post Comprehensive Win-Loss Record
This is closely related to the previous red flag. All handicappers should publically post their comprehensive W-L results. This is easy for a website to do. All plays should be archived so that customers and potential new clients can see for themselves how the handicapper has performed. That said, be careful because many sports services have been caught “scrubbing” their dirty records. These unscrupulous services appear to maintain an updated listing of all recommended wagers, but they go back later — a few weeks or months afterward — when no one remembers the losing picks. Then, they scrub away the losses. Removing ten losses from 100 picks can make a 50-50 coin-flipping handicapper look like a genius since the falsified record would be hitting 56 percent winners. One very strong indicator to know if a sports service is honest or not is to look carefully for losing streaks and losing seasons. Oddly enough, this is a somewhat reliable indicator of integrity. If a sports service has a few losing seasons, but also more winning seasons on their record, that might be worth consideration (provided they don’t have other red flags). In short, be more inclined to trust a handicapper and/or sports service that admits to bad streaks and losing seasons.
 Different Levels of Service or Clubs — Based on Price
This is a dirty trick used by most dishonest sports services. They offer different levels of service for their clients based on the price. Often, you see “VIP” clubs and other elite offers which presumably provide a higher level of service (which implies better sports picks — but is junk just like the rest of their stuff ). If I’m relying on someone else’s judgment, I want his best stuff at all times. This would especially be true if I’m paying for information. While the time period of a subscription is indeed a legitimate way to categorize clients (giving discounts to those who purchase a full season, rather than one month, for instance), no sports gambler should ever be receiving second-rate plays. Any service with segregated membership clubs is a scam. Without exception. Here’s the reason — it’s playing the odds. The more clubs a service offers, the better chance one of those clubs will get hot and produce a winning record. That way, the service can market its best-performing club to future suckers (and ignore the inevitable losing records).
 Beware of Hype
Here in Las Vegas, several daily and weekly radio shows feature sports handicappers as regular guests. These “experts” break down games and provide their picks. While many are worthless so far as value, just about all of them do provide accurate information. Most public handicappers who appear in major media work very hard to provide analysis, injury updates, and other data which can help the listener to make a solid pick. Even those who don’t win in the long run can provide valuable insight on a game we may not know otherwise. Hence, I do respect these handicappers who are willing to share their opinions. That said, gamblers should avoid the braggarts and screamers. Beware of so-called “experts” who spend lots of time touring their records and marketing next week’s picks. YouTube.com is filled with these videos of self-promoting scammers who spend most of the program telling the world how great they are. Stay away from them, unless you’re looking for a laugh. Note: One example of an excellent resource for gamblers is the daily video analysis released by Teddy Sevransky and Pauly Howard HERE.
 Any Sports Service Promoting a “Game of the …..” is a Fraud
No sporting event is so lopsided that it merits being promoted as a “Game of the Year.” Yet, we see this garbage advertised all the time. This is marketing targeted directly at saps and suckers. Gambling is a long-term endeavor. Gambling is about percentages. No game is a lock. Ever. The most egregious violation of this “Game of the….(whatever)” is often witnessed early in the football season. Dishonest sports handicapping services advertise their “Game of the Year,” sometimes even in early September! How does a service know there won’t be a superior wagering opportunity later in the season, in October, November, or December? There’s a reason for this and it’s a sure sign of dishonesty: Scammers know most gamblers still have money early in the football season that will inevitably be lost from week-to-week. So, they hype early season games to try and take advantage ignorance and desperation. You will also see the hucksters promote multiple “Games of the Year.” If you see anything like “Game of the Century” advertised (yes, this is quite common), that service is a scam 100 percent of the time. These aren’t reliable handicappers. They are clowns.
 Touting Parlays
Parlays are bottom-of-the-barrel traps for chumps and suckers who lose consistently and are desperate to crawl out of the financial hole. Some sports handicapping services are so vile, they prey on these most vulnerable who believe in the fairy tale of parlays — gamblers who hopelessly need a longshot winner to get back to even. Hey — it’s tough enough to pick more winners than losers over the long run, let alone make two or more picks on a single betting ticket. Yet, we often see “side and total” parlays advertised for the biggest games, especially the golden goose of fleecing for the sports handicapping industry, which is Monday Night Football. Some services even promote 3- and 4-team parlays. This is insane. It should be a crime. I’ve made perhaps 100,000 sports wagers in my life, and I can count on one hand the total number of parlays I’ve bet (they were all weather correlated — like when a hurricane slammed into Florida a few years ago and I bet several games in the region to go under due to rain and high winds). Parlays are for losers.
 Beware of Concentration on Sides / Beware of Concentration on High-Profile Games like Monday Night Football
Betting sides (and nothing else) is at best a break-even proposition for 95 percent of all gamblers. The lines for NFL and most college football games are rock solid. Oddsmakers don’t make mistakes (or, if they happen — they’re very rare). Value comes when we have reliable information that’s not widely known nor factored into the line (yet), which is far more common on propositions — such as the number of yards rushing a running back will gain. There’s also still some value in second-half (halftime) wagering. In short, the more exotic the wager (betting obscure players, quarters, etc.) the better the chances the number might be off since it’s impossible to calibrate every proposition of every game with complete accuracy. Incredibly, very few sports handicapping services give out propositions, quarters, first-halves, and so forth. They focus on numbers that are virtually unbeatable — sides and totals. There’s a reason for this: Most sports bettors want to bet on something they understand and can easily follow. Very few gamblers take the time to consider a rash of cluster injuries along a team’s offensive line which might lead to allowing more sacks. In such situations, betting OVER the sack total would be a far wiser wager than betting the side. Again, very few services concentrate on these opportunities. Similarly, sports services that always give out picks on the most popular games aren’t doing their customers any favors. Betting values are much more likely to be found on an Arkansas State-Louisiana Lafayette game that almost no one cares about instead of the New England-Green Bay game. Seriously — do you think a handicapping service knows anything special about a game likely to be watched by 50 million viewers?
My conclusions are as follows: Avoid sports handicapping services. You can probably pick just as many winners (and losers) as the typical “professional.” Moreover, if you add in the cost of the service — which can be hundreds and sometimes thousands of dollars — making a steady profit is even less likely.
A final word: I have many friends in the sports handicapping business. I know many of the biggest names known to most serious sports gamblers. Some of them are honest. Many are hard-working. Most have experienced temporary flashes of profitability which launched their careers as public handicappers and provided some measure of client confidence. But remember — all glory is fleeting. Caveat emptor.
Disclaimer: I have publically posted my football picks for more than 20 years. I have posted more winning seasons than losing seasons. Over the past five NFL seasons, my pre-game recommendations have been posted on this website. In more than 1,000 plays, I have a produced a very small profit — but a profit nonetheless. I have never once sold my picks, nor recommended any sports handicapping service.
Football has been part of my DNA ever since I lost $1 betting on the Dallas Cowboys against the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl V, way back in 1970. I’ve been chasing that elusive buck ever since.
Over the years, I’ve come to recognize what a disproportionate amount of time is wasted analyzing pre-game matchups, arguing about players and coaches, and watching college kids and grown ups tear ligaments and break bones to move an oval-shaped ball made presumably of the skin of a pig across a designated white line in order to achieve the ultimate obelisk of the game — which is scoring 6 points. Whippee.
Of course, I’m more guilty than most, not only in sheltering the fever bug of sports fanaticism, but also promoting the duplicity through my writings, videos, and the inevitable rants after a particularly brutal weekend. I fully recognize — and am even bothered to some degree — by the hypocrisy of this lifelong obsession with sports gambling while at the same time so often belittling the distractions of these mindless diversions within our culture.
I’m disgusted with the game, but alas I still love it so. College football — the corrupt NCAA, the phony colleges which exploit so-called “student-athletes” while paying coaches and executives millions, and the grotesquely imbalanced ranking and bowl systems. Pro football — billionaire owners playing pauper to gauge taxpayers for one-sided stadium deals, greedy players holding out and breaking contracts, $30 for game day parking, and way too many television commercials. And shit referees.
Like all football fans, I bitch and moan incessantly about it all, but then I’m right there every Sunday morning and Monday night, like an addicted junkie doddering towards a needle for another fix. Nolan Dalla — guilty as charged.
Still, I wonder about the future of football, especially in light of today’s bombshell announcement about the long-term effects of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE. The short version of the latest most comprehensive study ever on the subject is as follows — CTE is real. Evidence — Out of 111 brains of deceased NFL players that were studied, 110 were found to have some form of CTE. 110 out of 111. Ka-boom. That means playing football over a period of time causes serious brain injury. End of discussion.
Think about that for a moment.
Would you play pro football if given the chance? I think most of us would say yes. The money is just too good. The excitement of putting on an NFL uniform would be way too cool a proposition to pass up. Well, maybe not playing for the Rams. But anyone else.
That said, most of us would likely take a long hard look at what we’re doing to our bodies and brains once the inevitable injuries began taking their toll. Look at it this way: How much is walking normally worth to you? How much money would you need to make to sacrifice your mental faculties in the final few years of your life? These are legitimate questions that every athlete and every parent and every wife, mother, son, and daughter should be asking of those who strap on a helmet and take the field. The evidence is clear.
It’s one thing for a professional athlete who’s earning millions of dollars to carefully assess the serious risks of playing football. Indeed, one can justify playing in the NFL at least a few seasons perhaps in order to live the good life and support one’s family. That’s a risk many are willing to take and a price they are willing to pay later down the road. But what about high school kids, college players, and those who will never earn a dollar from playing football? Is it really worth it to endure the whiplash of getting tossed around the turf like a ragdoll playing football for Purdue? At what point do parents and students say — stop! it just isn’t worth it.
I suspect this study [READ MORE HERE] and the fallout of more research to come will not be good for football’s long term prospects. Some parents already don’t want their kids playing football because, they say, it’s too risky. As evidence mounts, recruiters must worry and now be willing to face what could become a legitimate objection to playing football, in favor of safer sports like basketball or baseball.
Will football be dead in 20 years?
It’s hard to imagine a downfall given all the money, the fame, the billion-dollar stadiums, the entertainment spectacle, and the cultural infatuation with it all. The National Football League is the American pastime. That’s because a fan in Macon, Georgia is every bit as interested in watching a game that takes place in Arizona or Missouri or Wisconsin as his team, the Atlanta Falcons. This is the genius of pro football — making it into a national game. No other sport casts such a spell over the mass populace.
The counterargument to football’s decline (for medical reasons) is the recognition that violence sells. A few decades ago, a sport like the MMA/UFC would have been unthinkable. Women fighting in cages would have a cultural taboo. Now, it’s on ESPN primetime. America loves violence. America is obsessed with violence. So perhaps, even the risk of ending up like a vegetable attached to a feeding tube will simply be looked at as one of the hazards of the game. Perhaps it’s an acceptable risk.
But hey, 110 out of 111 brains — all bludgeoned with CTE?
You tell me. What the risk? Hell, it seems more like a certainty.
In 1975, a movie came out starring James Caan and John Houseman. The movie didn’t do particularly well at the box office and has mostly been forgotten since, but it still left an indelible impression on those who saw it. “Rollerball” told the story of a corporate-controlled future world where the violence of sport turns star athletes into cultural icons. That fictionalized vision from nearly five decades appears to have become real. So, perhaps our hunger of violence and obsession with money is so insatiable that games of violence, including football, will forever be with us. [SEE FOOTNOTE]
So, which way will we go on pro football and CTE? Is this really the beginning of the end for football? Or, have we reached the inescapable dystopia reality that violence and entertainment are intertwined?
FOOTNOTE: From the IMDB page on “Rollerball” (1975) — The game sequences were filmed in the Olympic Basketball Arena in Munich. Munich citizens were invited to the filming to serve as spectators to the games. Director Norman Jewison intended the movie to be anti-violence, but audiences so loved the action of the game that there was actually talk about forming rollerball leagues in the wake of the film which horrified him.
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Writer’s Note: This is PART 4 in my ongoing series, “Gambling For a Living.” What follows is a partial recollection of my sports betting escapades over the course of 2016. For other chapters, please read PART 1, PART 2, and PART 3.
Sunlight sanitizes the dim hue of gambling daily.
All the time wasted and ultimately lost — days, nights, weeks, weekdays, and weekends — prodding often so pointlessly and more often still so profitlessly — crunching ideas, testing theories, reading injury reports on squeaky laptops and cracked smartphone screens — eyes darting back and forth between ball scores — the “previous” button battered on the remote control beyond recognition — my solitary self-made man-cave begins narrowing slowly. Life becomes absorbed within this timeless vacuum, sucking all the life and energy out of everything else that’s happening in the vast beyond, to which one becomes oblivious and indifferent.
Winning or losing has no impact on this dark place.
There’s a reason why convicts shackled up in solitary confinement are given at least an hour of daily sunshine. Twenty-three hours spent locked within an isolation chamber of unbreakable steel walls are at least temporarily forgotten when the warmth of the sun’s rays hit the face and sink into the body. This stimulant along with human contact keeps a prisoner from going mad.
The sun is my salvation.
* * * * *
108 degrees today in Las Vegas. Kick-off in five minutes.
Five months of full-time sports betting has provided me with a modest profit, and much to my surprise, almost narcissistic personal satisfaction. It’s ridiculous, because I could have spent all those hours doing something not just constructive, but likely more financial rewards. But there’s something inherently pleasing, even smug worthy, about doong what few people can and beating something that few people have mastered.
Sure, almost all sports gamblers talk a good game. Ask any sports gambler is he’s a winner and damn near 100 percent will say yes. Indeed, they might look successful. But virtually all heavy sports bettors have reliable sources of outside income that help to cast the illusion of success. Beating the vig in the long run is far more difficult than people realize.
I have no other outside sources of income, and so I was sort of forced into this role. The bills are due. The mortgage needs to be paid. Oh, and one of my cars has 130,000 miles on it and the engine is starting to make funny sounds.
C’mon Los Angeles Rams! Daddy doesn’t need a new pair of shoes! He needs a new timing chain!
My $7,000 wager on this “meaningless” preseason football game promises to set the tone for the entire 2016 NFL season. Worst-case scenario — it’s gonna’ be brutally tough to dig myself out of a $7,000 hole, that is, if I lose this bet. The way things have been going, that’s about two months worth of what I’ve managed to make so far, while doing this full time, and that was mostly on baseball, which will end soon. I’d have to pick fourteen $500 winners per game down the road just to get back to even (actually, more than that, with the vig). To put that into perspective, only 80 or so entrants out of 1,727 — which is less than 5 percent of the field — who entered last year’s NFL Handicapping Contest at the Westgate (what used to be the Las Vegas Hilton Super Contest) finished fourteen games above .500 or greater, for the entire season.
But if I manage to win, that’s a strong head start and a nice financial cushion to invest in the upcoming football season, given my average bet size usually ranges between $300 and $500. The bottom line is — this isn’t merely a $7,000 game for me, which would still be a lot. It’s really a $10,800 game, since that’s the full amounts of the financial swing.
Indeed, this is money that means something. They say you never know the real value of money until you don’t have any. This will sound strange to non-gamblers, but every serious sports bettor will understand it. I’ve wagered $5,000 on ball games dozens of times over the years, even on teams where I couldn’t name a single player. Once, I bet $39,000 on a Super Bowl game [READ THAT STORY HERE]. Still, there’s no correlation between the size of a bet and the pressure to win it. Most of the time when I’ve bet big in the past, I had enough money to cover the loss, and then some. Notice I said, most of the time.
Fact is, this is a bet I really cannot afford to lose. I need the Los Angeles Rams to win the game. That’s it. No point spread. Rams on the money line, laying no points. Just win baby.
This is the first NFL game played in Los Angeles since before the turn of the century. Although it’s just a preseason game, 92,000 fans still pack the L.A. Coliseum to welcome the Rams back to Southern California (just three months later, they’ll be calling for the coach’s head to be fired, and they get their wish). Based on the win-loss records from the previous season, the 7-9 Rams should be able to easily handle the 4-12 Cowboys, especially with the extra motivation of wanting to start off the new era in Los Angeles with a big win for the hometown fans.
Dallas should mail it in. The veteran starter, Tony Romo is out. He’s not even suiting up to play. The second-string quarterback got injured in training camp. Some kid that no one has ever heard of who was drafted in the middle of the fourth round is starting for the Cowboys. His name is Dak Prescott.
The game begins, and meanwhile — I’m outside sunning by the pool doing my best to magically make a fresh bottle of Santa Christina Umbria disappear, preferably before halftime, after which I’ll crack open a bottle of Blac d’ Blanc Champagne from Schramsberg. All this is evidenced by the photo above.
I’m not even going to bother watching this game, I tell myself. Why should I? I refuse to waste a gorgeous Las Vegas afternoon in front of the television. I’ll be doing plenty of that during the rest of the season. My money should win. Let it do the work for me. Let my money make me money. It’s just like stocks, I tell myself. Like a mutual fund. Hmm, should I go cash my ticket that going to be worth $10,800 later tonight, or wait until tomorrow? Such are the difficult decisions of the overconfident.
* * * * *
My laptop is out by the pool. The game kicked off just a few moments ago. I want to make sure I’ve got a good connection, so I hit the refresh button while linked to ESPN. My first look at the scoreboard….
With 14:43 left in the first quarter, it’s Dallas 7, Los Angeles 0.
What the fuck!
How the shit did Dallas score in the first 17 seconds?
Motivated by panic, my curiosity piqued, I slam the refresh button again and see that the Cowboys have run back the opening kickoff 101 yards and scored a touchdown.
I’m about to throw up my last gulp of Santa Christina.
Alright. Calm the fuck down. It’s just one touchdown. Some dude who’s about to be cut from the team blew a tackling assignment. Big deal. It happens. The Rams should still be in control of the game.
Next series, Rams go 4 downs and out. Punt. Dallas ball.
Rookie Dak Prescott takes the field for the first time in a Cowboy uniform. He looks like Roger Staubach winning the Heisman Trophy at Navy and dashes Dallas on a 85-yard drive that looks to be pristine perfection.
Dallas 14, Los Angeles 0.
I’m swimming and cursing at the same time. If the neighbors didn’t already think I’m half crazy, they’ve got plenty of new material to ponder. I refuse to let this gambling abomination ruin my day. No. No. No. No. No. Let the game play out and quit obsessing over every play of every drive, I tell myself.
About 40 more minutes pass. Unable to accept the serenity and remain calm, the laptop opens up again and now it’s Dallas 14, Los Angeles 7.
That’s better. Now, I’ve got a chance. I’m back in the game.
Another 40 minutes or so passes. It must be halftime, by now, I suspect.
ESPN on the screen. Half time score: Dallas 24, Los Angeles 7.
* * * * *
I tend to be pretty good at the things I’m interested in.
If I’m not interested, or worse — bored with it — I’m the laziest motherfucker on the planet. [Consider that one reason it took me a month to get back to writing this story.]
Lots of people don’t know this but my work did have a significant impact on NFL betting about 15 years ago. Allow me to tell you that story. Since it’s halftime, this makes for perfect timing.
Just before I moved to Las Vegas from Washington, DC, I spent that last summer in the nation’s capital outdoors in the sun, reading and calculating and pouring over old box scores of ball games dating back nearly 20 years. Each and every day, my routine was pretty much the same. I went outside, dug into the numbers, made my notes, and eventually came up with gambling fucking gold. It was the equivalent of discovering hidden treasure.
I have to share some of the credit here. A handicapper and researcher named Mike Garbowski (whom I’ve never met) had been the first writer ever to take on the unchartered topic of football halftime betting. Sometime around 1999, he published an obscure data set in a booklet which included all the NFL halftime betting lines and results dating back to the season when they first became available, sometime back in the 1980s. I don’t even think that data is around anymore. If there’s a copy of “NFL Second-Half Betting” around somewhere, I still have not seen it since my old copy became so worn out it is no longer legible. [Note: I think that’s the title of the book. I’m not sure. It’s been many years since I’ve seen a copy.]
Thing was, Garbowski didn’t do much in terms of creating a narrative with all his data. He didn’t market the research, at all. So, I spent the next three months scouring his numbers and then crosschecked them with as many NFL game results as I could find from the Internet. The longer I worked, the more excited I became. After a few weeks of doing this, I couldn’t wait to wake up the next day, go outside, and spend the entire day data mining NFL box scores. I know, that doesn’t sound like much of a life. I guess — it isn’t. But in the faux-laboratory of the mind of an NFL handicapper, this became an obsession.
The work wasn’t easy. For every nugget of gold I found, probably 30 or so theories turned out to be false leads pointing to fool’s gold. That’s the excruciating toil of data mining, the labor that no one sees. It’s spending half a day or longer than that on something that looks very promising dating back a few seasons, and then when you continue to run the numbers with all the crosschecking, eventually the advantages fizzle out and end up at the same random percentages as coin flipping. That’s why it’s called mining. You have to go deep underground, dig through an incalculable amount worthless rock, and if you’re extraordinarily persistent and then lucky, you might just find a few tiny diamonds amidst the coal. Data mining is an exercise in constant frustration and disappointment, not to be attempted by anyone but the most determined and stubborn.
My research finally led to 7 NFL Halftime Betting Angles that were irrefutably successful, and ended up altering the second-half lines of pro football games. Seriously, the actually stared shifting the lines because of this research, I first published my data in 2001 online at MadJack Sports (with proper attribution given to Mr. Garbowski, of course), and afterward everyone pretty much stole our data, re-posted it elsewhere at other sports betting forums, and the gold rush was on like has never been the case in NFL second-half wagering.
Incredibly, those NFL Halftime Betting Angles produced a whopping 65 percent winners during the full 2001 season. My systems produced an average of 3 to 4 plays per week. There was no handicapping involved, whatsoever. You just bet them blind, and won. It was that simple. A monkey could make the plays and win. It was a dream come true.
Making a really long story much shorter than it really deserves to be (note to self — do the detailed write up someone later, especially on the dead-end angles), those angles made me some money, but they didn’t make me rich. I had no full-time job for about a year (similar to my experience now), so I relied on those wagers to keep me going. Thank goodness for offshore sports books, which was my only betting option in those days.
The following season, in 2002, I moved to Las Vegas. The angles performed even better, winning at nearly 67 percent. In 2003, Dave Tuley published my angles in the Daily Racing Form, even though the subject matter of the periodical was horse racing. I published a revised editions of my angles in 2003 in Casino Player magazine. In other words, I updated some angles, and dropped a few based on results. This was before software packages ran the data, and even that wasn’t very good since quarters and halves aren’t usually broken down with numbers and percentages — so all the work had to be done the old fashioned way, by making your eyeballs bleed pouring over the data. By 2005, I was attending sports handicapping seminars in Las Vegas and the “experts” sitting up on the stage were quoting my work (and Garbowski’s work), citing our betting angles, and I pretty much just sat there stewing like a pressure cooker with a thumb up my ass, silent like a bitter victim who watched as everyone else ran away with the prize.
Fuck me. I never should have published those angles. I should have kept them to myself.
I coulda’ been a contender.
Addendum to this story: Two things happened — (1) Lines makers began adjusting lines to the angles, and they became less reliable. (2) The NFL became more of a passing game and rules were changed which helped offenses, negating some of the “under” betting systems I had created. Closing advice — don’t bother with the angles anymore. They’re now totally obsolete.
* * * * *
No, I didn’t tell that last story with any purpose in mind. It just seemed like a good time.
No, I did not make a halftime wager on this game. I’m already down y 17 points. It looks like I’m about to lose more than enough money on this day and the first thing you must when you’re stuck in a hole is to stop digging.
Second half kickoff. Dallas 24, Los Angeles 7.
Under these circumstances, I now have to go back into the house and watch my action.
Fuck the sun.
Fuck the pool.
The champagne is still sitting the fridge.
Marieta senses that something is very wrong.
I’m miserable as all fuck.
The second half of the first preseason opener is usually a romper room of ineptitude. Players who have no shot of ever playing in the NFL are now out on the field, trying desperately to make an impression somewhere on someone just enough to get noticed so he might later get signed to a minimal contract to play on the practice squad. Many preseason second halves are nothing more than scrimmages — training exercises where the coaches just go through the motions, sending in dull plays that would only interest some talent scout from the former XFL.
For this reason, being stuck 17 points in a preseason NFL game is like being down 30 points in a regular season game. It means your double fucked.
My five-figure wager is now riding on the arm of a new quarterback for the Rams named Sean Mannion, who used to play for the Oregon State Beavers. I had to look that up just now, because I could not even remember his name or anything about him. But over the next 90 minutes or so, he’s going to turn into the second coming of Jesus Fucking Christ.
Mannion throws a touchdown pass in the middle of the third quarter, and after three frames, it’s Dallas 24, Los Angeles 14. Still down by 10 points. C’mon, you bastards!
By this time, Dallas has replaced Dak Prescott, who played like an All-Pro in his first-ever NFL start. That stellar display foreshadowed the incredible rookie season he would later enjoy with the Cowboys as he led them to the NFL East title. Done for the day, now a fourth-stringer takes all the snaps, and it’s apparent the Cowboys aren’t really interested much in scoring in more points or risking injuries to anyone who might make the team. They won the half that counted on the scoreboard, from both a coaching and talent perspective.
Fortunately for me, the Rams fourth stringers are treating this game like a Super Bowl. Los Angeles manages to score another touchdown midway through the fourth quarter, and now it’s Dallas 24, Los Angeles 21.
I’m pacing back and forth in front of the television like a wild mare. Rams players who drop passes get called out as cocksuckers. Cowboy receivers who drop passes get called out as heroes.
Down to the two-minute warning. Rams have the ball, and are driving. 92,000 fans are on their feet, and while most of the television viewers watching wouldn’t normally think this is a big dive, for me this might as well be Elway piercing through the Browns defense in the epic ’87 AFC Championship game.
With about 1:30 left on the clock and the Rams with no time outs, it’s 4th down. Crunch time. Rams ball. They’re on about the Dallas 35. I’m mulling over the possibility of kicking a 52-yard field goal, and ponder if that’s what I went to happen. But Rams’ had coach Jeff Fisher isn’t playing for the tie here. He wants to win. I desperately need a first down. Then, I need another 30 yards in the closing minute.
On fourth down, Mannion takes the snap and goes back to pass, then looks to his right, and nothing is there, so then he looks to his left. A pass rush floods into the backfield and just as Mannion is about eat the ball and go down with a sack, meaning “game over,” he sees a running back trekking out towards the sidelines, fires a missile that hits the receiver high in the shoulder pads, and he collapses with the ball out of bounds, but a half yard across the first-down marker.
First down Rams!
A few plays later, the Rams are down on the Dallas 9-yard line. A few seconds remaining. If I lose this game after storming back against the odds, something’s going to get broken. I don’t like breaking furniture. Marieta really hates it when I do that. Please, o’ please let the Rams score.
Mannion goes back to pass……Aaron Green slants off darting towards the left post in the corner of the end zone…..his arm moves forward……ball is in the air…..Green makes the catch…..
With the extra point, Los Angeles 28, Dallas 24. Final score.
Sean Mannion, my hero. Congratulations, Sir! You made the blog!
Time to cash a $10,800 ticket.
Coming Up: I’ll be writing a lot more about “data mining” in my next chapter of “Gambling for a Living.”
Sure, there’s the misery of the preamble, that painful period of time leading to a ballistic blow up. That’s not fun at all. However, doing a video rant is sort of like engaging what psychiatrist Arthur Janov coined as “Primal Scream Therapy.” Janov charged his clients, which included many celebrities, hundreds if not thousands of dollars per hour to express their deepest emotions. By contrast, making a video only requires a smartphone and the bravery to share one’s soul with the world.
I lost a wager on the Super Bowl yesterday. My wager appeared to be a lock, until seconds were left in the game. Then, the ice cream turned to shit. I won’t go into details. You can just watch this 8-minute clip for yourselves:
Alternative version of clip with reader comments can be seen on myFACEBOOK PAGE.
I watched yesterday’s Super Bowl at Russ Fox’s house, along with several friends. Russ always does a nice job of hosting. I have having a great time until the epic meltdown in the fourth quarter. After getting into arguments with people about how stupid the Atlanta coaching staff was, electing to have QB Matt Ryan pass the ball with only a few minutes left in the game and a lead that should have been insurmountable, I drove home and was prepared to call it a night. Another day. Another bad beat. Shit happens.
But the more I thought about it, the more I realized it might be a healthy outlet to make a video and let myself go. I’ve done this a few times in the past, and I’d call it a win-win. I have fun with the rants, and it sure feels good to let off some steam after losing thousands of dollars. Viewers also seem to enjoy the rants. I think every gambler can identify with the frustration of suffering a loss.
Here’s a similar video I made a few years ago after a devastating weekend where I lost almost every game. This video runs longer, but has quite a plenty of red meat [Viewer discretion advised]:
Rants can be fun, even on topics other than sports. Here’s a much longer video I made a few years ago in reaction to the absurd Las Vegas Review Journal “Readers Poll,” an abomination which includes the public’s picks on the top restaurants and entertainment in Las Vegas.
This video begins calmly and then as I read the readers poll picks, I begin to lose it. Enjoy!
Today’s a big day for me. I’ll run a few errands and be back later with a special announcement and a pledge drive.